24 April 2019

Finding a new passion in spinal research

After a life changing injury, Steve was inspired to find out as much as possible about spinal recovery.

Life can be shocking, and wonderful. Devastating, and beautiful. A day can end drastically differently from the way it began, and for better or worse we have no choice but to roll with the punches.

Just Better Care customer Steve is doing just that. In 2017, a relaxed day at Port Macquarie with friends ended very differently to how it had started, when he jumped into a pool. The 25-year-old’s head hit a submerged step, and with the news that Steve would now be living with quadriplegia, a carefree life of backpacking and spontaneous outdoor adventures seemed to slip from his grasp.

Before the accident, Steve was a keen kayaker and camper, growing up in the Berowra area outside of Sydney. He played sport, loved the outdoors and grew up surrounded by national parks. He would bushwalk regularly, surf and spend hours exploring the Hawkesbury River.

Now, more than a year after that fateful jump, Steve’s learned more than he ever thought he would know about resilience, disability, and the options and advancements of spinal recovery.

So much so that he’s befriended scientists and doctors involved in a radical new spinal injury device, and has become a passionate ambassador for its fundraising and awareness efforts.

“In rehab, I met a mate who was in contact with a research team in spinal injuries at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). They were developing a promising new spinal recovery technique that utilises a device that had been trialled internationally, with positive results.”

Steve reached out to Professor Bryce Vissel, who is leading the research, and went on to meet the team involved in the device’s use at UTS.

“Currently, the brain’s messages stop wherever the spinal cord and nerve tissue is damaged,” Steve explains.

“However, the device that’s been created sits over the injured site and acts like a hearing aid for the spinal cord, strengthening the messages that the brain is sending, so that they reach the rest of the body.”

The device has the potential to give people with spinal injury the ability to walk, but also to restore control over lesser spoken functions that are affected by spinal cord injury, such as sexual function, bladder function, blood pressure regulation and temperature control.

“This is something that could be rolled out in the third world. It’s cost effective and minimally invasive,” Steve said. “And this technology, happening so close to home, is ground-breaking.”

Steve explained that his role as a spokesperson is to highlight the challenges of spinal cord injury and the huge benefits of regaining body control, in order to be able to enjoy what he used to do.

“I’ve always been active and even now, I try to get around in nature as much as I can. This is why I’ve been so passionate about this research,” he said.
“It’s an amazing thing to be involved in.”

Without knowing anyone living with disability before the accident, Steve says he’s grateful for the support available to him, and for having a network of family, friends and Support Professionals who help him live independently.

“The whole experience has broadened my perspective on what support really means,” he said. “It’s highlighted a lot of issues that I wasn’t aware of, like how much time and effort is involved in care, but also the technical side of spinal recovery.”

On the horizon is a 10-kilometre fun run that Steve will complete with the support of his friends. Through the run, Steve’s goal is to raise 10,000 dollars for the spinal recovery program at UTS, a big undertaking but not compared to the two million-dollar gap in funding in order for the project to begin.

To raise these much-needed funds, a dozen of his mates will work together to get Steve around Olympic Park during the event in early March.

Steve is focused on finding new ways for people living with disability to get back into the activities that they love. He’s always been driven, energetic and passionate, and it’s clear that the same enthusiasm that had been funnelled into enjoying the outdoors, fuels this new path.

He says his goal is to contribute to scientific advances in spinal injury by continuing his advocacy work. Long term though, Steve says he is looking forward to finding new ways to enjoy the lifestyle he’s always loved.

“There’s never a good time to have a spinal injury, but now we’re at the edge of what could be a real technological breakthrough in curative treatment, he says.

“It’s exciting to think that what could be possible in the next year or two, and what recovery could potentially mean for someone with a spinal injury.”

Find out how you can make your goals possible with Just Better Care’s in-home disability support and aged care services. Visit or contact us today.

This article is from issue 7 of Possible Magazine. Read it here.